CROWN POINT — Family members wept — and some left the courtroom —Tuesday as the man who stabbed their loved one to death last year apologized to them and was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
James M. Jackson-Burnett, 28, said he received a generous plea agreement and probably deserved a longer sentence for killing Edward Norwood, 56, on Jan. 1, 2018, at Norwood's home in the 3600 block of Johnson Street in Gary.
"I'm sorry. I'm not an animal," he said. "What I've done is completely wrong. I have no explanation for it at all. All I can say is I'm sorry."
Jackson-Burnett, who was found mentally competent to stand trial for murder in September, pleaded guilty in May to murder.
His plea agreement called for 45 years in prison. Lake Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell gave Jackson-Burnett credit for 778 days in jail and good time, and recommended he receive mental health and substance abuse counseling while in prison.
Jackson-Burnett must serve at least 75 percent* of his sentence, according to the plea agreement.
Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Kathleen Kurowski read two letters from Norwood's family.
Norwood's mother wrote that he was the glue of their family. The house where the family once gathered is now the place where Norwood lost his life, the letter said.
Norwood's step-daughter wrote she and her mother were on their own until Norwood came into their lives when she was 2 years old. She loved him, and he loved her.
Shortly before Norwood was killed, he helped the family through the ordeal of her mother's death.
"I miss and love my dad so much," the letter said.
Kurowski said the case included strong forensic evidence, but prosecutors lacked an eyewitness to the homicide. The possible sentence for murder is 45 to 65 years, with an advisory term of 55 years.
Defense attorney Linda Kollintzas said Jackson-Burnett always was remorseful, but she advised him against apologizing to the family until Tuesday's sentencing hearing.
Jackson-Burnett admitted he stabbed Norwood multiple times in the scalp, mandible and back. He also inflicted chopping wounds to Norwood's scalp, and cutting wounds to Norwood's body.
The wounds caused Norwood to lose a large amount of blood and die, the plea agreement states.
Police found Norwood's nude body Jan. 1 in his bedroom and his vehicle abandoned in the 4200 block of Monroe Street. Blood was smeared on the vehicle's arm rest and steering wheel.
Investigators identified Jackson-Burnett as a suspect after a woman called police Feb. 1, 2018, and reported Jackson-Burnett had claimed he had "one under his belt" and showed her boyfriend a news story about Norwood's murder to prove it.
* Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the amount of time Jackson-Burnett must serve in prison, with credit for good behavior. The Times regrets the error.